(p. 113) Relaxation & Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, without being judgmental or being less judgmental. Mindfulness allows us to accept what we cannot change and enables us to see what can be changed.
Some specific events, experiences, and interactions stay in our heads. Whenever we think of them, emotions spring up and leave us feeling sad, happy, angry, or unsure. Sometimes we act on these feelings without much awareness. Mindfulness is being aware of this whole process by observing the flow of our thoughts and emotions without acting upon them immediately.
Mindfulness also helps us develop awareness of our actions and reactions in specific situations, especially situations that bother us. We also learn how our actions impact others. Developing awareness without judgment can help us be open and receptive to different perspectives.
For example, being mindful about a negative interaction with a friend can help us see the wider perspective. Perhaps the negative interaction was not caused by something we might have done. Instead, it could be that our friend might be upset about something completely unrelated to us. By being mindful, we break down a complex experience into its parts, allowing us to be open to widening our perspective. Mindfulness can strengthen our openness, self-regulation, and social intelligence.
In-Session Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness can be developed, but it requires regular practice. The following are five mindfulness and relaxation practices that can be incorporated into positive psychotherapy (PPT) sessions or used at home.
Practice One: A Mindful Minute
1. Sit in a comfortable position with your hands resting on or close to your thighs and with your head, neck, and chest in a relaxed straight line. Rest your feet flat on the floor.
2. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice how it enters your body and how it leaves your body. Focus as you inhale and exhale, on how your chest expands and contracts.
3. Gently bring your breath deeper into your belly. Continue repeating this breathing cycle. Try to make each inhalation and exhalation last for 6 to 8 seconds. Start over after each breath.
4. Rather than trying to stop any other thoughts, keep your attention focused, and count very quietly or in your head. Your attention will wander, and your job is to gently bring it back and start again. Consider this a practice of not only focusing but also one in which you will make many starts—distraction, start again, distraction, start again. If doing this practice in session, when one minute is up, you will hear a sound.1
Practice Two: Breathing
1. Make sure you are sitting in a relaxed and comfortable position.
2. Keep your head, neck, and chest in a relaxed (not rigid) upright position.
3. Relax your shoulders. Bring your back toward the back of the chair.
(p. 114) 4. Rest your hands softly on your thighs or wherever you feel comfortable.
5. If you feel comfortable, let your eyelids slowly and gently close, just as the curtain in a theatre closes.
6. Take a deep breath through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly and gently.
7. Repeat this breathing two more times, each time deepening it, from your chest down into your belly.
8. With every breath in and breath out, try to relax your whole body from head to toe.
9. Breathe smoothly, without pause.
10. Next, shape your breath; a good breath has three qualities (Sovik, 2005):
• Even (approximately equal duration of inhalation and exhalation)
• Without sound
11. Relax the effort to breathe and let it naturally flow, as if your whole body is breathing.
12. Focus on your breath as it enters and exits through your nostrils.
13. Take 10 breaths that are smooth, even, and without sound. Open your eyes.
Practice Three: Stretch & Relax
Practice Four: Positive Imagery
If you are doing this practice in session, your clinician can read the following script. If you are doing this practice at home, record the script so that you can listen to it while doing the practice. To begin, sit comfortably.
Close your eyes and imagine a place in your mind. This place can be indoors or outdoors, but it is a place where you effortlessly feel comfortable. Take a few relaxing breaths to fully feel that you have arrived here. See if you can focus on one sensation at a time. What things do you see? [pause] Look around slowly. [pause] What things do you hear? Notice the sounds—near, far, and perhaps very far away. Next, what do you smell? Natural smells, some artificial smells. [pause]. Now touch something, feel its texture—smooth or rough, hard or soft, heavy or light. Look around, and if there are any materials, colors, stones, features, or other materials, touch them. See if you can use them to make something. It doesn’t have to be perfectly sized or symmetrical. Or you don’t have to make anything. Feel at complete ease to do something or nothing. Relax. Take a few deep breaths. Try, but not too hard, to memorize details of this place, like (p. 118) a mental picture. This is your place, your place to relax. Gently and slowly trace you steps to leave, the same way you came in.
Practice Five: Love & Kindness Meditation
The following meditation practice has been adapted from Sharon Salzberg’s (1995) book, Love-Kindness. This practice recites specific words and phrases evoking a “boundless warm-hearted feeling.” The strength of this feeling is not limited to or by family, religion, or social class. The meditation begins with ourselves, and we gradually extend the wish for well-being and happiness to all.
Begin with the following phrases:
May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.
While saying these phrases, allow yourself to immerse into the intentions they express. Loving-kindness meditation helps us to connect our noble intentions with the well-being of others. Let feelings of love, kindness, openness, and acceptance embrace you, and let these feelings expand as you repeat these phrases. As you continue the meditation, you can bring in your own image and direct this love and kindness toward yourself.
After directing loving-kindness toward yourself, bring to your attention a friend or someone in your life who has deeply cared for you. Then slowly repeat phrases of loving-kindness toward that person:
May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful and at ease.
As you say these phrases, immerse into their intention or heartfelt or heart full meaning. And, if any feelings of loving-kindness arise, connect the feelings with the phrases so that the feelings may become stronger as you repeat the words.
As you continue the meditation, you can enlarge the circle and bring to mind other friends, family members, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, animals, and finally people with whom you have difficulty.
The following are additional relaxation resources you may find useful.
Rolf-Solvik, a clinical psychologist, associated with the Himalayan Institute:
Learn Diaphragmatic Breathing for Deep Relaxation:
Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the most distinguished practitioners in mindfulness, guides a 30-minute body scan meditation practice:
Sharon Salzberg, a distinguished practitioner, teaches love and kindness:
This animated video, based on Martin Boroson’s book One-Moment Meditation, gives you the tools to find calm quickly and effectively. You can practice One-Moment Meditation at home by following along with this video:
1. If this practice is done in session, the clinician should gently bring the client out of the exercise with a soothing sound.
2. Or preferred side; from here on, please include the preferred side in your directions. For the sake of balance, we alternate between sides, from posture to posture.